Everything you need to know about breast cancer and breastfeeding

Posted on October 31st, 2017

Professor Apffelstaedt, Associate Professor at the University of Stellenbosch and Head of the Neck and Breast clinic at Tygerberg Hospital answers some common questions about breast feeding when diagnosed with breast cancer.

Breastfeeding and breast cancer

Breast cancer is the most common female cancer in the world. Early detection and effective treatment have transformed breast cancer from the dreaded disease that killed about half of those suffering from it, to a disease that can be managed successfully with excellent prospects for long- term survival.

Breast cancer occurs in about one in every 3 000 pregnancies, most often in women between the ages of 32 and 38, keeping in mind that it is not the pregnancy that causes the onset but rather because more women postpone pregnancy to an age where breast cancer becomes more common.

ALSO SEE: Breast cancer and pregnancy – what you need to know

Can you breastfeed if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Yes, but not while receiving anti-cancer medication, be it chemotherapy, hormonal therapy or phosphonates. All of these medications are toxic to infants.  While radiation itself is not a contraindication to breastfeeding, women undergoing radiation would have recently, or are currently on anti-cancer medication. Radiation also suppresses lactation in the irradiated breast.

Is suppression of lactation necessary?

Suppression of lactation does not improve prognosis. If surgery is planned, however, lactation should be suppressed to decrease the size and vascularity of the breasts. If chemotherapy is to be given, lactation should also be suppressed, because many chemotherapeutic agents such as cyclophosphamide and methotrexate may occur in high levels in breast milk and will affect the nursing baby.

Early detection can save your life

About one in 10 women in urbanised areas will be affected by breast cancer in their lifetime. This statistic may seem alarming, but breast cancer is a highly curable disease when detected early, and this is why it’s so important that women follow a strict regimen of screening and self-examination.

CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW TO DO A BREAST SELF-EXAMINATION AT HOME.

There are three levels to a life-long breast-care programme:

  1. Self-examination, which you should do once a week after your period ends. It’s easy and only takes a few minutes, so don’t put it off.
  2. Clinical examination, where a breast health professional checks your breasts and can show you a proper technique.
  3. A mammogram, which can detect many breast changes that are too small or too deep to feel.

Women between the ages 20 and 39 should know their family history of breast cancer and schedule a clinical breast examination by a healthcare professional every three years and should conduct self-breast examinations monthly.

Xanet Scheepers

About Xanet Scheepers

Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day.